The Dodgers possess the best record in the National League, and have for a while. They’re on pace to break the franchise record for victories. They feature the stingiest starting rotation and the scariest offense in the National League. They have drubbed opponents and they have eked out victories.
But the bullpen remains a soft spot on an otherwise elite club. The weakness becomes apparent every so often when the starting pitcher doesn’t go deep into the game or the offense is muzzled or, in the very rare case, both happen, forcing the relief corps to absorb several high-leverage innings in order to win. The scenario arose Wednesday at Chase Field as the Dodgers were outlasted in a bullpen battle, falling 3-2 in 11 innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Dodgers bullpen did not perform poorly. Four relievers combined to give up two runs in four-plus innings. But two was enough to sink the Dodgers on a day when the offense provided an atypical performance.
Working with a one-run lead, Wednesday’s tumult stemmed from an unlikely source: Pedro Baez, the Dodgers’ best reliever this season, surrendered the tying run in the eighth inning. His trouble began when he plunked former Dodger Tim Locastro, a magnet for baseballs with 10 hits by pitches in 67 plate appearances this season. Two batters later, Jarrod Dyson, a light-hitting outfielder with a .344 slugging percentage entering the game, banged a two-out double to tie the score.
Ross Stripling held Arizona scoreless over the next two frames, working out of a jam in the 10th. But Scott Alexander entered to pitch the 11th and surrendered a leadoff triple to Eduardo Escobar on a sinker he thought was good.
“I was really shocked,” Alexander said. “I mean, I don’t even know how he got it in the air, to be honest. But he did.”
The Dodgers intentionally walked the next batter, Ketel Marte, to bring up the left-handed-hitting David Peralta. Alexander, a left-handed groundball specialist, tried to induce a groundball. Instead, Peralta smacked a line drive to right field for a walk-off single, continuing Alexander’s struggles against left-handed hitters this season.
“He was just cheating to the fastball a little bit and put a good swing on it,” said Alexander.
Will Smith’s first stint in the major leagues ended on another high note. The rookie catcher belted a two-run home run in the third inning to support the Dodgers’ only offensive output. It was his second home run since he was called up from triple-A Oklahoma City last Monday. The first was a walk-off blast against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
He has impressed on all fronts, but manager Dave Roberts said the plan remains for Austin Barnes, who is on the injured list because of a groin injury, to replace Smith on the roster Friday in San Francisco.
Otherwise, the Dodgers failed to solve rookie right-hander Jon Duplantier. Roberts thought his club was too aggressive against Duplantier, whom the Dodgers had never faced, and the six Diamondbacks relievers they confronted over the final six innings. Duplantier gave up the two runs on three hits while striking out seven and walking one. The Dodgers managed four hits and two walks against Arizona’s bullpen.
“We got a little too anxious,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers (43-20) strutted into Wednesday’s series finale boasting the best starting rotation in baseball since April 25 — three days before Rich Hill returned from injury to round out the team’s projected quintet. During the 26-game stretch, Dodgers starters led the majors in earned-run average (2.16), opponents’ on-base percentage (.243), strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.93) and walks plus hits per inning pitched (0.92). Their efforts fueled eight shutouts.
It was on Kenta Maeda to sustain the excellence Wednesday after Hyun-Jin Ryu recorded seven more dominant innings in Tuesday’s victory. Maeda flourished for the first three innings. The right-hander struck out five of the first six hitters with 21 pitches. He added a clean third inning to extend the perfection until Dyson lined a leadoff single in the fourth. Two batters later, Peralta smacked a two-out double to give the Diamondbacks (31-32) their first run in 16 innings.
Maeda didn’t give up another run and appeared primed to log at least six innings. He emerged from the fifth with his pitch count at 70. His spot in the batting order was due up fourth in the seventh inning. His exit did not appear imminent. But Roberts decided to replace him in the sixth with Julio Urias, who hadn’t pitched in four days, with the top of the Diamondbacks order looming for the third time.
“I was surprised with the decision to pull me out of the game,” Maeda said.